As y’all know, I just finished finals week of my first semester at Physician Assistant school at GWU! Woo! I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited to be done taking tests and to have a week of relaxing at home-which is saying something because I love being home with my mom. But, here are some of the most important things I figured out during the past week at school in order to having a successful finals week.
Let’s be honest, we’ve all made the decision that we’re going to pull an all nighter, go in the next morning and rock the test, and be totally fine. And sometimes, that is helpful. If you have one major exam on a Friday before a weekend or after the test you have plenty of time to recover, it can work (I still don’t suggest it). But, during finals week, PLEASE do not do this. Don’t try to study every possible second and restrict the amount of sleep you get to increase the time you study. It’s not effective and it’s not healthy. Your body needs sleep to function, and you need to be able to function to preform well on a test. If you’re staying up every night to study and not getting sleep, chances are you’re not going to remember the information you’re studying as well. Studies have actually shown that studying before bed helps your brain to integrate the material into long term memory better. You know how they say getting no sleep can make you go crazy, so why do we think choosing studying over sleep works well?
So, what does this mean? When you’re tired, go to sleep. This could be taking a nap for a while and waking up to start studying again. Or it could mean going to bed early and waking up early to get study time. You’re going to get the same amount of PRODUCTIVE studying in doing this than if you were trying to not sleep and study all night. For example, by our last exam of the week-Microbiology and Infectious Diseases-I was pooped. My brain hurt, I felt like if I ever had to take another exam again I would cry, and I just wanted to lay in my bed and sleep. So I did. I ended up going to bed at 8pm and waking up at 2:30am when I headed back to the library. And honestly, I did so much better studying than if I had pushed through and gone to bed at midnight like I had planned.
Learn the amount of sleep your body needs. I need a lot of sleep to function well. Other people need less. If you need at least 6 hours to be a normal human being, try to get those 6 hours during finals week. I promise studying will still be there when you wake up, and that it will go a LOT better for you.
Ah, the magical tip that no one seems to ever do. We all say (or at least I do) that we’re going to start studying as soon as we get the material and then it’ll be just reviewing for the test. And then we don’t (or at least I dont). But it SERIOUSLY HELPS. The great thing about PA school is a lot of the material does overlap. For example, we took a pathology exam a couple of weeks ago and a lot of the material was very similar to the core ideas of what we were tested on in Microbio and Infectious Disease. So that way, when I was studying for MID, I was like “oh cool I know what this is”. And it seriously helped me to be able to connect the dots. Or we had to preform a full head to toe physician exam a week before finals, and then one of our exams was a test of that physical and different abnormalities we could find. It worked out great for us, but a lot of times it doesn’t work out like that.
My suggestions: Know when your tests are and set an alarm for at least a week in advance. This will keep you from getting any “surprise” finals. Plan out all the things you want to do to study. If you want to rewatch lectures (one of my FAVORITE things about GWU is we do have the option to do this), figure out how many hours you’re going to need to do that. Make a checklist of all the things you need to do to study. Not only will it keep you on track, it keeps you motivated as you watch yourself check off items. And obviously, this checklist is just a guide and you’ll figure out different things you want to do as you go. Be flexible. Read the notes after you learn the material in class. I repeat, READ YOUR NOTES after the lecture. This is by far one of the best things I have found helps me when studying. First, it helps me if I have any questions about the lecture material. I can email the professor that day, or if I was confused in class a lot of time reading the notes helps me clarify. Secondly, when I go back to study later, I’ve already read everything. I can look at a slide and say “this is explain further on a later slide” or “this is a great example for later” and it’s super helpful. Even reading, or hearing, something once is great for jogging your memory later. Plus, reading after a lecture helps you to connect the dots.
Do some exercise
Exercise releases endorphins, and endorphins makes your body happy. Stuck on a subject? Go for a run (or walk or swim or anything). Get your body moving. Get your blood flowing. Stressed out? Dance it out. Literally just moving your body is going to make you feel better and make you study better. A big thing I struggle with is freaking out about time and not wanting to go for a run because it will “waste my time”. It took sitting down with a professor and freaking out about how stressed I was to make me realize that exercise releases my stress and makes me happy. Your body is also one of the best study tools you have (for example check out my picture on how I studied for anatomy). If your running and going over a subject and then have a test question, think back to that run and what your were doing as you learned the subject. Plus, a lot of science classes are about your BODY. So use it!
Do something relaxing or fun
Studying sucks. There’s no way around it, sometimes it just sucks. You think you’re doing well, and then you go back over the subject material and have a different 50 questions then the ones you just answered. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a break. Do something that makes you happy. For me, that’s watching Grey’s Anatomy or painting. For you it may be something different. But no matter what, doing something for yourself is going to make you happy and get rid of some of your stress. And getting rid of some of that stress is going to make you do better.
My advice: the last 20 minutes before an exam, do something for you. That last 20 minutes isn’t going to make or break your grade. But being so stressed out that you overthink everything will. Or “restudying” something that you knew super well and ending up doubting whether you know it will. So watch some Netflix and try to relax. You prepared for the exam and your going to do fine!
Believe in yourself
This is one of the hardest things about finals week. We’re stressed out and we’re just thinking about how this could make or break the rest of our lives. DON’T think like that. No matter what, everything will work out and it happens for a reason. I like to, as soon as I get the test, write little happy notes on the top of my paper. They’re everything from “You are smart and you will rock this test” to “anatomy is your B*tch”. Just something that makes me smile and reminds me how much I deserve to be there. And honestly, I think it’s super helpful. When I’m stressed out about not knowing the answer to a question, I go back and read that note and smile. And it makes that hard question just a little bit easier.
Another important thing to remember is its not where we are in life, but the journey on how we got there that matters. Believe that you’re going to rock finals week and it will make the entire process better! And if you don’t do well, you know what to do differently for the next experience.
Hopefully you guys will find these tips a little helpful!
Feel free to subscribe to the blog to get updates on my posts, which include Pre-PA advice, tips for making it through school, and fun lifestyle posts. Or you can follow my social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) for a better look into the daily life of a PA student. Send me an email if there is something specific you want me to blog about, or if you have a specific question!